The chefs who keep the undergraduate students involved in fraternity and sorority life well-fed each have a unique experience in terms of culinary beginnings, the number of meals served and the type of clientele.
Nearly 39% of undergraduates are a part of either fraternity or sorority life. One large benefit to joining one of the nearly 35 Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic organizations the university has to offer is access to a common living space where students can have chapter meetings, socialize between classes and gather for meals cooked by professional chefs throughout the day.
“My favorite memory of being a chef is just seeing the faces after people get their hands on the food that we cook and how they enjoy it,” Sigma Alpha Epsilon chef Lisa Wilson said. “And then having people come to you and compliment you on what you do. That gives you a good feeling.”
Wilson has been working in the culinary industry since 2014. She has been a chef at three different houses at Ole Miss.
“I started cooking by chance, I guess. I started out in housekeeping and when I got done with my work, I would go to the kitchen and help,” Wilson said. “Sometimes I would just literally take over, and they just kind of let me so that’s pretty much how it started for me.”
Alpha Omicron Pi Chef Crysta Allen also had a somewhat unconventional start to her culinary career.
“Ever since I was 10 I wanted to be a cartoonist. Then, we got Food Network, and I was like, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do.’ I was obsessed with Emeril, Elton Brown and to a lesser extent Bobby Flay. I just love watching them do all the stuff. That’s like, that’s what I wanted to do,” Allen said.
However, Allen learned the hard way that the advice and opinions others had on her dream would hold her back if she took them to heart.
“When I got out of high school, I told everybody I wanted to be a chef and everybody was like, ‘Oh you want to be a cook’ and didn’t think I was good enough,” Allen said. So I got my degree in sociology, and I didn’t do anything with it. And then it wasn’t until I had my daughter in 2013 that I was like, ’You know what, I’m just going to do what I want and let her see me be happy doing what I like to do,’ so I went back to culinary school.”
While getting to pursue a passion is a great benefit to being a chef, there are still struggles just like any traditional job. Cooking in such high volumes and under stressful conditions definitely brings some heat to the kitchen.
“It’s more of a personal thing but I guess just getting respect from people (is the greatest struggle),” Allen said. “Just to be honest, they see a young girl and a lot of experienced people don’t want to take orders from someone younger, but that’s probably the biggest struggle for me.”
Before she entered the AOII kitchen, Allen worked at the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. Being chefs who have worked in both fraternity and sorority kitchens, Wilson and Allen have observed one stark contrast between the men and women who eat their dishes.
“With the boys it’s simple. They just want potatoes, meat, and potatoes. The girls are more salads, pasta and stuff like that,” Wilson said.
While the men may have a more carb-and-protein-centric diet, there is still an art to crafting the menus each house has every week.
“We kind of rotate. We don’t want to have the same thing every day or every week, so we go by suggestions that you may want and work that into a weekly menu,” Alpha Omicron Pi chef Lynne Roberts said.
Because meals are an integral part of each day’s schedule, the chefs and students have lots of opportunities to interact and form bonds with each other.
“After you see them every day for three or four days, you know what they like to eat and don’t like to eat and you can look at them and you know if they feel good or if they don’t feel good,” Roberts said. “You just form a bond and a relationship with them. I just love everybody. I wouldn’t think of working anywhere else.”
Claire Reynolds is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.